Convocation 2013 Remarks: Sociology Professor Carol Auster

  • Professor of Sociology Carol Auster

Convocation Remarks as prepared.

Thank you, President Porterfield.

Good morning everyone! And a great morning it is for first year students and for all of us welcoming the Class of 2017 to Franklin & Marshall College. I also offer a very special welcome to Dr. Wiggins, Class of 1955. To the Class of 2017, I am honored to be the faculty member who was chosen to impart some words of wisdom for your college years. 

Since your arrival on campus, you have found yourself surrounded by the letters F&M. But when I began to think about what I might want to say to you today, I found that many of the words that came to mind as important started with the letter P. Some of those with important roles at the college include Professors, your Prefect, the Provost, and even the President of F&M, who sports a double P, since he is the President and his last name is Porterfield.

So, on this fine morning, I will share my thoughts about 4 words beginning with the letter P. 

The first word that begins with P that I want to talk about is POSSIBILITIES. Franklin & Marshall is a place full of possibilities. The faculty will provide you with opportunities to explore disciplines that are new to you as well as to explore those already familiar to you with new depth or in a new way. In a typical year, there are over 1000 classes offered at F&M that provide all kinds of possibilities for students to challenge themselves intellectually.

There are also seemingly endless possibilities in terms of extra-curricular activities – over 100 alone are listed on the F&M website – in athletics, music, dance, drama, politics, and community service – just to name a few. 

And so many possibilities for friendship – but more about that in a few minutes.

The second word that I want to mention that begins with the letter P is PASSION.  I want to talk about passion in two different ways. On the one hand, you are coming to F&M with particular passions – perhaps for a subject area, recreational activity, or social cause. I hope you will share those passions with others, but I also hope you will be open to exploring and developing new passions at F&M. You may explore a discipline with which you are less familiar – Sociology or Anthropology, Classics or Art History, Geology or Neuroscience -- and develop a new passion for that discipline. You may try out new extra-curricular activities and find one among them that becomes a new passion. In fact, the possibilities available to you at F&M may lead to new lifelong passions.

But, I want to talk about passion in another way, too – that which I will call “passion in the moment”. When I use the phrase “passion in the moment”, I am NOT referring to what you DO, but HOW you do it. I want to encourage you to be fully engaged in academic life by participating in your classes, interacting with your professors, and responding to your fellow students. If you go to a college event, be enthusiastic. And look for ways to lead and inspire others to immerse themselves and to show “passion in the moment” by being fully present and energized by what is happening at that moment.

What is the third word beginning with P?  It is PERSISTENCE.  Although your four years at F&M will go more quickly than you can ever imagine – there will be some long days of hard work. I know you will need to be persistent to succeed academically -- by sometimes working harder than you expected to understand an assigned reading or a difficult concept, by studying a bit longer than you had anticipated, or by polishing a piece of written work one more time. This persistence will help you be the best that you can be and to get all you can out of the wonderful four years of a liberal arts education that you are privileged to have ahead of you.

And to help with possibilities, passion, and persistence, the 4th word beginning with P that I think is so important is POSSE. When I say the word Posse, for some of you, what may come to mind is an image of a group of men on horses deputized by a sheriff. But, that’s not quite what I had in mind. I’d like to briefly describe the Posse Foundation and then indicate why I believe that having a Posse is important for each of you.

A woman named Debra Bial helped launch a young man with a promising future to college. When she talked with him the summer after his first year, he explained that he was not returning to college because he did not have his Posse with him. That conversation led to her idea to send groups of 10 or so students to college together to serve as each other's Posse on campus and also to the establishment of the Posse Foundation, which is now more than 20 years old. More recently, Debra Bial was named as a MacArthur Fellow and President Obama contributed a portion of his Nobel Peace Prize to the Posse Foundation.

The Posse Foundation has partnered with 47 top-notch colleges and universities, including Franklin & Marshall, and accepts nominations of public school students in 9 major metropolitan areas for merit (not need-based) scholarships. The Foundation evaluates students’ academic and leadership capabilities, with each partner college making the final selection of students who will attend their institution. This year, F&M welcomed its 9th group of Posse Scholars from New York City and 2nd Posse from Miami. I have had the pleasure of serving as mentor to Posse 6, the nine Posse Scholars who are currently seniors.

Don’t worry, I am not suggesting that each of you should have come to college with a Posse, but I do think each of you needs an F&M Posse. What can a Posse do for you? Your Posse, because of their own varied backgrounds, will undoubtedly help you grow as they open your eyes to new possibilities and passions. Your Posse can celebrate your achievements, but they can also offer support when life becomes difficult and help you sustain your persistence. You need a group of supporters whom you can trust, supporters who can inspire you, who are willing to challenge you, and who tell it like it is even when you might not want to hear it. Your Posse should also help you smile, laugh, and see the humor in life. I am hoping you now see why each of you needs a Posse.

Now I will begin to tie everything together. Both of my parents, who are now retired, were college faculty. I remember that for years my father had two posters side-by-side on the wall in his office. One read, “Life is for those who plan for it.”  The other read, “Life is what happens to you while you are planning for the future.” Some of both will likely provide a mix that will allow you to plan but also to take advantage of unanticipated possibilities, some of which will lead to new passions, some of which will require new levels of persistence, and all of which will be better if you have a Posse.

Although I have spoken this morning about possibilities, passion, persistence, and Posse in the context of F&M, they undoubtedly contributed to the March on Washington and are important in the continuing quest for social justice.

But my words of wisdom this morning would not be complete without quoting one of our founders, namely Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn.” So – in keeping with this – I am going to ask you to actively engage for a minute.

I would now ask the Class of 2017 to loudly repeat each of the four important words I have spoken about this morning. I will prompt you with each of the four words. READY?

Possibilities POSSIBILITIES, Passion PASSION, Persistence PERSISTENCE, Posse, POSSE.

Now one more time with even more enthusiasm, you and I together, with no prompts between words -- Ready-- POSSIBILITIES, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, POSSE.

To the Class of 2017, as you share yourselves, your interests, and your talents over the next four years, be inspired to make Franklin & Marshall College the place you want it to be!

Thank you.

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